Will Gray

Gray Matter: Sauber struggles a glimpse of future

Will Gray

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After their scintillating pre-season
pace proved to be a fix to attract sponsors, Sauber is facing up to reality
without BMW - but is their plight a sign of things to come for the sport's
front-runners?

Sauber's performance so far this season
suggests BMW quit the sport at the right time. After separating from Williams
to go their own way with Sauber they never achieved the lofty ambitions they
set themselves and the car that has now become the C29 had already received
major BMW investment in its early development. If results are anything to go
by, staying would have been simply throwing in good money after bad.

"In terms of performance we are not
where we expected to be or where we should be given the means we've had at our
disposal in the development of the C29," Peter Sauber has admitted. "I'm
looking for explanations."

One explanation is that Sauber lost
development time when BMW decided to quit, and another is they lost the budget
required to push further development, but the fundamental reason for Sauber's
poor performance is actually the shrinking syndrome.

In moving from a manufacturer team to a
privateer team, Sauber has had to activate a rescue programme in just a few
months. A budget cut of 40 per cent and a workforce reduction of 33 per cent is
dramatic, and in the fast moving world of Formula One, when your competitors
are not doing the same, that's not easy to cope with.

Brawn, of course, looked to have faced a
similar battle last year and ended up as world champions, but Honda's exit
strategy was different to BMW's and while Brawn had to undergo a resource
reduction it was nowhere near as dramatic as the one undertaken at Sauber.

After the time lost to securing the
team, it has been on the back foot ever since, both in terms of securing
sponsorship and developing the essential technical solutions. Three races in
and Sauber is now the only established team yet to get points on the board,
sitting in ninth behind Toro Rosso and Williams, their closest rivals at the
back of the traditional pack. It's quite a tumble from the sixth place they
achieved in 2009.

"What we have to do now is move
away from the previous modus operandi and put new methods in place that will
maximise efficiency," said Sauber. "This applies not only to
technical development, but also to the way we operate as a team."

Sauber, of course, knows how to run a
tight ship. It's how he began his operation back in 1993 and how he ran it
until the BMW takeover in 2006. The transition will take time, but the arrival
of James Key from Force India, a resourceful technical director used to running
a small team on a low budget, could be a key move in smoothing that change.

But this is something that all the
front-running teams will have to face sooner rather than later.

FOTA has agreed to implement a reduction
in operating costs over the next few years, and Sauber's current struggles
highlights what can happen if that process fails to go smoothly.

It is not necessarily about maximising
efficiency, as Sauber says, it is purely about knowing what can be achieved
given the level of resource. McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull are all very efficient
having put the people and systems in place to make the most of the resources
that they have, but when those resources change dramatically, the systems no
longer work and they have to be adapted to work on a different level.

So by following Sauber's progress, the
teams ahead could get some important pointers for the future.

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